Early last Saturday morning I received news of the passing of Dr Kenneth John. Although I realised that he was quite ill the news certainly rocked me. I had over the past year, with Bassy Alexander, paid him periodic visits.
We had stepped back a bit in light of covid pandemic concerns, but had planned a visit two weeks ago which unfortunately never materialised. With his passing an era has gone. Since the 1960s his opinions have been a central point of national dialogue through his work at the Extra-Mural Department, his Searchlight radio program, the Flambeau magazine, and his weekly newspaper columns. For the last two years we have had reruns of his columns, courtesy the Vincentian, because of Kenneth’s vision problems and reduced mobility. He had been dissecting Vincentian society, reminding us of our recent political history and analysing current developments. He has written on every conceivable subject from politics to carnival, cricket, mini-vans and paying tributes to Vincentians who had passed on. It will be good if the Vincentian newspaper could in his honour, publish small booklets of his writings under the relevant heads. We are well aware of Kenneth’s open love affair with the English language and some of his gems will continue to charm us. Who would forget his classic on the names of mini-vans and his pieces on how he lost and found his cat and his many more pearls?
I have had a close relationship with him for over forty years and we shared many things. We did not always agree on issues, something he acknowledged, but that mattered little since we respected each other. I first knew Kenneth when he taught me French in first form at the Grammar School, something I often heckled him about. I next came into contact with him when he was Resident Tutor of the Extra-Mural Department between 1964-67, a position I later held although the department had metamorphosed into what is now the Open Campus. During that period, he had lent me copies of Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery, and CLR James’ Black Jacobins, two books that had a tremendous impact on my intellectual development and fostered my love for history.
Many people probably do not know that Kenneth through the Extra- Mural Department facilitated the growth of the National Youth Council and became its first patron. I remember quite well his address to the NYC before his departure to the UK to do post graduate work at the University of Manchester and also to study for his law degree. During his time at the Extra-Mural Department, he also became one of the founding fathers of the Kingstown Study Group that launched the Flambeau magazine. The lectures he organised throughout the country was part of the mandate of the Extra-Mural Department to carry the university to the people. I well remember a lecture in Barrouallie delivered by Danny Williams. His emphasis on Black Power and decolonization led to an angry response from the white Anglican priest who I believe was Australian.
Danny laid it out to him, shocking the audience that had never heard any Vincentian speak like that to a white man, especially a man of the cloth. A spell had indeed been broken.
I met Kenneth again in 1971 when I returned from studies in Canada. He had started his legal practice and was the leading light of the Education Forum of the People (EFP). With most of the founding fathers out of the country he saw me as an able assistant and so we became bonded and developed a close relationship. Kenneth loved cricket. He played it in school and was captain of the lawyers cricket team that played matches throughout the country. Although not a lawyer, I played with them as did others. He also had another group that played soft ball and regular cricket in the country areas. Long before female cricket became established, he had organised games against women cricketers. I remember one match at Richland Park and another at Rosebank I believe.
Then there was the married men game at Greiggs. I accompanied the team.
They were a man short but not being married then, I did not qualify.
Kenneth came up with a creative way of dealing with it. He saw a Greiggs beauty, a ‘Miss World’ in the making, called her, held her hand and my hand and said I “I now pronounce you man and wife”. He then reminded me that the marriage was not consummated and with a straight face said, “nor is it likely to be.” I played the match and we won. My contribution was worthwhile and the Greiggs married men must have been annoyed, having allowed a marriage of convenience to have gotten in the way!
(To be continued)
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian